It was ugly, really ugly; five straight games, a sweep, the second Boston Massacre. And to the Yankees, the Evil Empire, the embodiment of all that is wrong with sports. Wait till next year! (For the unenlightened, the Yankees swept the Red Sox in five games last weekend all but knocking them out of post-season contention. This is all too familiar to a fourth generation Sox fan.) I must compose myself. Time to move on the college football—Hook ’em Horns.
Two years ago Rick Reilly, of Sports Illustrated fame, wrote an article for his regular S.I. column, “The Life of Reilly,” entitled, “Let Us
Pray Play.” Did you see it? This is certainly not the way I would articulate the issue, but the fact that anyone from S.I. would even consider the Sunday-sports problem is surprising. With football on its way, this is an appropriate moment to look back on his perspective.
Another Easter Sunday in the Cathedral. Hushed voices. Amens. People holding hands and praying. At the end, all of them rising as one and screaming, "My God, it's a miracle!"
No. Augusta National. It was Phil Mickelson's win at the Masters.
Sports has nearly swallowed Sunday whole. Every pro sport plays on Sunday. The big day in pro golf and tennis is Sunday. College football started playing bowl games on Sunday. Here's March Madness: 10 NCAA tournament games were played on Sunday. Now more and more youth sports teams are playing on Sunday, when the fields are easier to get and parents are available to drive.
It's that kind of stuff that has really torqued off Pope John Paul II lately. In March he decried the fact that Sundays are losing their "fundamental meaning" to "such things as entertainment and sport." It's not as if he's antijock. The pope was a goalkeeper, skier and kayaker in his day. Hey, he just blessed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's right arm. He's just hacked at the way sport is crowding God right off the list of Sunday passions.
The first people he might want to crack down on are the Christians themselves. Think he knows that the Santa Clarita (
He's not the only one who's chapped about sports becoming this country's main religion. Priests and pastors across the country have noticed something lately: God is competing more and more with Sunday sports -- and losing. Especially with youth sports.
"It's only happened the last two years," says Rich Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals. "Coaches never used to schedule games on Sunday."
Says the Reverend Julie Yarborough of Summit (N.J.)
Her colleague at
I'll tell you exactly what's going on here: the upping of American youth sports.
For some reason overcaffeinated parents feel they have to keep up with the Joneses. They used to do it with their cars. Now they do it with their kids. Upping means putting little Justin into not one soccer league but three, not one soccer camp but four.
Upping also means playing up, forcing a kid to play one or even two levels above his age group, so that little Benjamin, age eight, can sit on the 10-year-olds' bench, play three minutes a game and whiff in his only at bat. But, hey, he is playing up!
And upping means moving up. The local team isn't high-profile, so little Amber has to switch to an elite team, usually in another town. That means extended drives to and from practice plus traveling three or four or six hours to play in tony invitational tournaments on weekends. This way parents from far-flung towns can flaunt the status symbol of spending beautiful warm weekends in a freezing ice rink watching 14 mind- and butt-numbing hockey games.
"I admit, we're guilty from time to time," John Burrill, head of the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association, says of playing on Sundays. "We don't feel particularly good about it, but with today's busy schedules Sunday is the only time some of us have to do these things. And if you're going to travel two states away, it doesn't make sense to not play Sunday, too."
Well, religion bosses have decided that they're not going to take it anymore. Spiritual leaders in
Don't bet on coaches doing the right thing. If they could, they'd have your kids running stairs on Christmas morning. What has to happen is the parents have to start saying no. Not to their kids -- to their kids' coaches. "I told my boy's coach he wouldn't be playing on Sundays," says Cizik, "and he looked shocked. I said, 'You act like nobody's ever said that to you before.' And he said, 'Honestly? They haven't.'"
I'm with the holy men. Not that I'm the Reverend Lovejoy, but I just feel sorry for these kids who get nothing but organized sports crammed down their gullets 24/7. My Lord, even God took a day off.
Kids might weep with joy to get a day off from sports. If they don't spend it at church, maybe they'll spend it getting to know their siblings' names again. Or swing in a hammock without a coach screaming, "Get your hips into it, Samantha!"
Hey, you do what you want. Just remember, when little Shaniqua has two free throws to win or lose a game on some Sunday morning, good luck finding somebody who'll answer your prayers.